Connect with us

San Francisco 49ers

How the third-worst play ‘of all time’ launched 49ers dynasty

HBO’s Real Sports profiles Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay this week. You might not imagine it to be appointment TV for 49ers fans.

McVay is coach of the division rival Rams. He was hired when he was 30 (doesn’t Tom Brady have deflated footballs older than that?) and voted NFL Coach of the Year in his first season on the job.

Hang on, you 49ers red hot. You’ve got a treat in store one way or the other: Learning about 49ers history, or reliving it.

See, no discussion of the McVay coaching tree is complete without a reference to The Miracle at the Meadowlands. John McVay, Sean’s grandpa, was the head coach of the New York Giants on Nov. 19, 1978. It was shaping up to be a mighty fine day in East Jersey. In a game with postseason implications, the Giants led the Philadelphia Eagles needing only one snap to clinch the victory.

Instead of taking a knee, Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik attempted to handoff to fullback Larry Csonka, who hip-checked the ball out of Pisarcik’s hands. The Eagles’ Herm Edwards scooped up the loose ball and ran for a stunning game-winning touchdown. NFL Films has rated it the third-worst play “of all time.” Take a look and see what you think:

Naturally when host Bryant Gumbel sat down with Tim McVay (John’s son and Sean’s dad) the subject reared its ugly head.

“If any family knows how quickly things can change for coaches in the NFL it is the McVays,” Gumbel said, according to a transcript of the program provided by HBO. “You got to see how ugly it can be.”

Tim McVay: “Yep.”

It was this ugly: The Giants’ offensive coordinator was fired the next day. John McVay and the team’s general manager were cashiered at season’s end.

“If I do my math right, you were about 21 years old on November 19, 1978,” Gumbel said.

Tim McVay: “Yep.”

“When the fumble effectively cost your dad his job.”

“Sure did.”

Are you sensing McVay still hasn’t quite made peace with that play?

“I remember I said, ‘Hey Pop, someday we’ll look back on this and laugh.’ And he said, ‘No (expletive) way.’”

But fate had different designs for John McVay. Because he was fired in 1978, he was available to take a position on Bill Walsh’s first 49ers staff in 1979. There are many who believe that McVay’s expertise in player evaluation along with his ability to defuse the occasional head-butting between Walsh and owner Eddie DeBartolo was a critical component in the 49ers’ success.


More in San Francisco 49ers